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night panic

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Sisyphus commented on my post from last night:

Why do I think that the real story of what’s going on is hidden in those ellipses?

Well, sure. And further, what’s going on not only between the dots and other punctuations marks but even between every single letter of every single word that I write on here, is the fact that I suffer from some sort of strange and intense malady that I can only call night loneliness. I’m not sure (for all the therapy and self-centric thought!) where it comes from, when it started, really anything at all about it and its etiology.

All of you, if you’re regular readers, are aware of the symptoms that come of this malady. Logorrhea, incessant posting – that is to say, compulsive writing that brings with it the possibility of communication almost instantly.

***

Recurrent dark fantasy, waking soft nightmare. I am alone in the world. I have never been alone, not really for a minute, so I have no idea what it would be like. But when I imagine it, I imagine a dingy flat with a futon and a television. And I imagine myself making dinner for myself alone, heating up things wrapped in plastic. Or perhaps not heating up anything at all, just not bothering with dinner. (I am one of those people, awful, who has to be reminded – no, really, implored – to eat, who simply will not eat if left to his own devices. I will smoke right through the hunger, smoke the hunger right into null.

Anyway, I am alone and when I come home from the office, I eat or don’t. Perhaps I make my way through the newspapers that I haven’t yet finished. And perhaps after that I check the internet to see if anyone has written. No one has, or only the wrong people have, people whom I don’t really want to write back. After that is done, I switch on the television, but there is nothing on and so I stare at the endless loop of news or some godforsaken sports highlight show. And then I go to sleep.

I do this every single night, without any variation at all, over the course of my life alone, over the course of my dark fantasy.

***

I have always stayed up late at night, for as long as I have been allowed to determine what time I go to bed. When I was a teenager, I would stay up well into the morning, sitting in my basement smoking and typing on a typewriter and sometimes chatting (Prodigy!) or talking on the phone. The basement, with its low hanging pooltable lamp sans pool table, must have reeked in the morning. I still today use aluminum cans for ashtrays.

***

Was there really a time when I did real work at night? Perhaps during college, when my wife and I lived in a two-room apartment across the street from a very very famous 19th-century female poet’s house. Two rooms, but no bedroom. We had a futon that we slept on in the living room; the other room was a kitchen. I remember being very, very happy, but also worried. Would I get into grad school? Would we live in New York? We wrote our papers together, night by night and day by day. There was a room in my college’s library that was ours – a little cubicle on the third floor that no one else seemed to know about. And our computers were shit, ancient and basically good for nothing but word processing. For fun, we went to movies once or twice a week. These were the glory days of the art house stuff, the moment when the conglomerates were just catching on to the profitability of the small picture.

***

But what did I do at night during college? And during the first years of grad school? It’s getting dimmer and dimmer. I don’t remember feeling particularly panicked. When we finally did get to New York, and our tiny apartment in Brooklyn Heights, things start to get a bit clearer. At night, I sat in the kitchen with the window open, smoking and working on a novel. It was called The Amateurs, and was terrible. It was about a woman who became something of an amateur porn celebrity. It was terrible. I wrote it wanting primarily to make enough money to buy an apartment – this was 2001, 2002, and things like that seemed totally possible in the hopped-up, cash-rich mediascape of the only just then collapsing tech bubble.

***

People don’t talk about it all that much, except in the intimacy of parent-on-parent conversations, but one of the things that happens often enough when you have small kids is that dad gets ejected from the marital bed, finds some other place to sleep. This is because little kids sleep very badly, often enough, and often enough want to sleep with mom. Mom doesn’t sleep well to begin with, given all that’s going on at night, and so it’s just easier to settle into a separate bedrooms situation for the time being. It’s not good, and I’m sure that like everything else that has to do with parenting, we’re doing something very wrong, something that The Nanny would disapprove of were she to visit our North London terraced house.

If you have two children, as we do, there’s a strong possibility that just as you’ve gotten one child sorted out in the sleep department, the new one comes along and starts the cycle all over again.

Usually I get the lovely guestroom on the top floor. But when people are visiting, as my parents are now, I settle for the living room couch.

***

I have downloaded a shitload of films that my wife doesn’t want to watch. They include The Parallax View, Mysteries of the Organism, Crash, Gommorah, and a few others. I could easily settle down in my bed (wherever it is) and watch one of these a night, or watch until I get tired and save the rest for the next night. But I do not watch the films as that doesn’t feel enough like work to be tolerable. Blogging feels like work, work in the best sense.

***

When I was a very small child, or even a larger small child, I had a hard time sleeping. Obviously, there was no booze around to usher me into the arms of Oblivion. What I can remember, quite clearly, is the sound of the hockey games, the announcers of the hockey games, that my father would watch, night on night, downstairs. That and worrying about whether or not I was going to go to hell. The discovery of masturbation, when I was twelve, didn’t help with the later preoccupation, but this is cliché, rote, too boring to mention.

***

You can give yourself programs, plans, to accomplish at night. You could, for instance, work on learning a language, one lesson a night in a Teach Yourself book. They’re quite good – I have a smattering of Italian and Spanish (in addition to the French and German I took throughout university) because of them. For awhile, I knew enough Mandarian to do things like order dinner but now it’s gone. You could, alternately, work on a novel – promise yourself a certain page or word count per night. Or obsessively read 100 pages of something, night in night out.

***

But why can’t I just go to sleep, like a normal person? It’s a great mystery to me too. Some part of it has to be genetic, handed right down my mother’s side of the family. My maternal grandmother doesn’t go to sleep until she has to, and my mother was the same until the disease that she’s had (or that’s had her) since just before the time of my arrival on the scene has made it manditory that she goes to sleep at a decent time. When we’re all in Canada together, which is rare but does sometimes happen, my mother and my Nan will stay up extremely late, sitting and talking at the kitchen table. I have a sense that my first daughter has inherited the same gene – she’s just waiting, already at the age of four, for the minute that we stop monitoring her bedtime. She’s ten or so years away, and I can only imagine what she’s be up to at night when night’s are permitted her. Overly optimistic, but I’ll only be 43 when she’s 14, and perhaps just the same as I am now, and so perhaps we’ll be up together, typing into our computers, looking for the flash of light that makes all of this insomulence worthwhile, worth it. Overly optimistic – the words of a father of a four year old, I know.

***

The irony is, of course, that this condition requires at once a pining after late-night attention combined, perversely, with a drastic need to be alone for several hours after the sun has gone down.

***

At night, I can hear the trains – commuter trains and also the faster, longer ones bound for Yorkshire and then Edinburgh – rattle past my neighborhood. If I look through the window in my topmost bathroom, I can see the light standards illuminating the tracks.

***

Starting tomorrow, I will do something different with all of this, though I am still, as of now, not sure what.

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 21, 2009 at 12:48 am

Posted in i miss you, me

6 Responses

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  1. “…………………..What you hope for
    Is that at some point of the pointless journey,
    Indoors or out, and when you least expect it,
    Right in the middle of your stride, like that,
    So neatly that you never feel a thing,
    The kind assassin Sleep will draw a bead
    And blow your brains out.”

    — Richard Wilbur, “Walking to Sleep”

    Sisyphus

    July 22, 2009 at 2:48 am

    • Ads,

      This post crept right into the heart of my night. Haven’t been able to sleep at night for years. Chronic and inherited, as you suggest. Brain chemistry awry no doubt…

      Spend the dark hours investigating whatever will hold still to be investigated, most recently my theory that

      middle managers invented history

      tom clark

      July 25, 2009 at 11:17 am

  2. On my honeymoon we had the misfortune of staying up for 48 hours straight because we 1) didn’t think when booking our Ryan air w/ 9 hour layover from Dublin to (not)Paris, 2) live on the west coast, 3) got into Paris past midnight and didn’t realize that the night host’s computer might have changed dates, 4) booked our reservations through …Orbitz.com. So the 8 days of Paris ended up as 6:AM to 6:PM(for a nap, which turned into the insomniac nights, up bright and early for tomorrow).[For only twice the original Price!] And watching my longtime partner/new wife slumber in the light of MTV France while I stared at the night pink sky through the window frame, on what is supposed to be the happiest moment of one young man’s life, I felt like the loneliest person alive.

    Sadly I sleep best when I’m exhausted from working meaningless jobs, and am thus distanced from critically engaging my situation thru fatigue.

    Tokyo

    July 30, 2009 at 12:09 am

  3. Tokyo,

    Yeah, I know how that sort of thing goes.

    The funny thing about my whole issue is that I don’t generally have trouble going to sleep once I’m in bed. I just have trouble talking myself into going to bed… So it’s not insomnia, something else…

    Ads

    July 30, 2009 at 9:25 am

  4. The raveled sleeve of care?

    tom clark

    July 30, 2009 at 11:13 am

  5. Ads,

    Lovely bit about the choreography… are you sleeping better or is it the dancing coffee?

    Meanwhile, still haunted by this nocturnalist post, I’ve sought a correlative in pictures–the encroaching of the elm shades upon Fairfield Porter’s sunlit Arcadian world secreting a prescience of Night and Fall in the idea of an otherwise eternal summer–and words… Click

    Sweet(day)dreams…

    tom clark

    July 31, 2009 at 7:07 am


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